The Best Places to Visit In Spain: From Cordoba to Valencia

Spain must see Italy and France getting all the headlines as prime tourist destinations and wonder what it has to do to get more love.

The answer is nothing. Spain is an incredible destination for people who love food, architecture, adventure, scenery, music, and the arts – everyone, in other words.

Here’s how special Spain is: UNESCO Lists 50 World Heritage sites within the country, including all of Ibiza and Toledo, the Pyrenees, and huge chunks of Granada, Cordoba, Salamanca, Caceres, and Avila. UNESCO could have saved a bunch of space and simply listed “Spain.”

Here are just a few of Spain’s most amazing destinations, ready for you to explore.

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Spain’s most popular tourist destination to the eternal consternation of Madrid, Barcelona is an architectural wonderland, boasting the mesmerizing works of Antoni Gaudí, including the iconic Sagrada Família and Park Güell.

If you prefer the older stuff, the city’s cathedrals are not to be missed.

The art and music scenes are equally lively, and the city’s pride in being something beyond Spanish – Catalan – is everywhere.

The food’s not bad, either. Barcelona is the place to go for tapas – small portions of everything from croquettes to shrimp. These foods and more can be sought out in Barcelona’s cafes and markets, like La Boqueria and the Mercat del Ninot.

These are all great reasons for Barcelona being at the top of many tourists’ lists, but there’s more: the beaches of Barceloneta, the Olympic sites, and the FC Barcelona matches at Camp Nou – ideally one of the rivalry games with Real Madrid that are intense enough to have earned the moniker “El Clasico.”

Add it up and Barcelona deserves to be the first stop on your Spanish vacation.

Read more about the top 10 things to do in Barcelona


With Barcelona having all that, how does Madrid compete?

It’s a little like asking how Washington, D.C., can compete with New York City. The answer is: By being itself.

Madrid has the Prado, one of the world’s great museums. (And the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, home to Picasso’s “Guernica,” is no slouch, either.)

It also has Real Madrid and the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium, if you prefer to camp on the other side of El Clasico.

You can make a case for the Mercado de San Miguel being the country’s best traditional market, and the Renaissance-inspired architecture of the old part of the city more soul-stirring than Barcelona’s contemporary looks.

Your nightlife destination is the Plaza Mayor, and your source for green space is the Parque del Buen Retiro.

Madrid has a lot to offer. You just need to know where to look.

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What do you do in Seville? Flamenco.

If Spain is Hogwarts, flamenco is the dark arts. A haunting combination of singing, guitar playing, and dancing, flamenco was considered indecent for centuries because of its ties to Gypsy culture. Its most intricate songs were arcane and closely held, and its best singers were treated like magicians.

Flamenco doesn’t have quite that luster anymore, but knowing its deep roots will help you appreciate the performances, and the passion people feel for them.

A performance at the Conservatorio de Danza Sevilla will take you back and forward in time, as you watch the conventions of the art being challenged and brought into a new millennium, literally stomping and shouting.

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Described as “a film set brought to life,” Cordoba might be the most soulful city in Andalusia, Spain’s most soulful region.

Of course, you must stroll through the Mezquita de Córdoba and the Alhambra. These Moorish masterpieces give you insight into one of Spain’s worst-kept secrets: The deep, powerful cultures that mix and mingle quite openly throughout the country.

Where else does the Roman Empire exist cheek-by-jowl with the African Moors, Middle East cultures, and the Renaissance kings and queens? Nowhere as spectacularly as Spain.

Even today you can take a traditional Arab bath in the Albayzín neighborhood, and within a few blocks be surrounded by Gothic spires and arches.

To wrap things up, take in an equestrian show at the Royal Stables, home to fiery Andalusian horses.

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Valencia is the place to enjoy paella, ideally at one of the beachside restaurants in Malvarrosa, and ideally with a little bit of explanation of why the dish is so special.

Paella is sort of a stew and sort of a risotto but also neither of those things. It’s a dish unto itself and a symbol of a very Spanish way of life – a time-consuming, labor-of-love dish that brings everyone together, talking, eating, drinking, and savoring the moment.

Many things can go into paella, but in Valencia, it’s mostly seafood – shrimp, mussels, and more.

There are other things to see and do in Valencia, like the exciting La Tomatina festival in August, but they come and go. Paella is forever.

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San Sebastian

It wouldn’t be a trip to Spain without a trip to the Basque Country. This mountainous region which borders France and the tiny principality of Andorra has long been home for two things: a separatist movement and great food.

The city has more Michelin-starred restaurants per capita than anywhere in the world, and as you walk along the Playa de la Concha you’ll find lots of restaurants specializing in what look like tapas but aren’t.

They’re pintxos – Basque tapas, served on skewers and eaten on bread – and they reflect the unique mountains-meet-the-sea culture. You’ll hear people talk about a “pintxos crawl” and it’s a real thing – going from restaurant to restaurant, stuffing yourself silly and loving every minute of it.

Oh, and La Concha beach is a great place to laze around the next day.

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For Americans looking for an epic summer getaway, Ibiza should be at the top of the list. These famous Balearic islands off the coast of Spain are legendary for their world-class beaches, nonstop nightlife, and vibrant party scene.

During the day, you can soak up the Mediterranean sun on pristine sandy beaches like Playa d'en Bossa or explore quiet coves and seaside villages. But Ibiza really comes alive at night with some of Europe's biggest clubs and wildest parties. Massive clubs like Pacha, Amnesia, and Ushuaïa host famous DJs spinning the hottest electronic dance music all night long.

While the party scene is a major draw, Ibiza has more to offer than just clubs. The island's Old Town is filled with charming architecture, boutique shops, and restaurants serving classic Spanish tapas. You can also venture into the interior to find quaint villages, lush pine forests, and agrotourism.

With its electric energy, stunning beaches, and endless summer vibes, Ibiza provides the ultimate Spanish island escape for fun-loving tourists.

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